Monday, March 2, 2015

Throwback Thursday- Here We Go Again

Brian Jordan was waiting for the copy machine at the KASB offices and noticed a framed copy of the first volume of the Kansas School Boards Journal sitting on a shelf.  Unlike the rest of us who walk by it countless times every day, Brian started to read Volume 1, Number 1, October 1930 of the KSBJ.  He suggested that I read it, and what a gem it is.

George Allen, Jr, State Superintendent of Public Instruction, extends his greetings and identifies the major issues of the time.  He starts by establishing the importance of Kansas Education for the entire state of Kansas and shares some data.  I was surprised at some of the numbers:

            Students                     500,000                     
            Teachers                      20,000                       
            Board Members          30,000                         

Who knew there were that many students, that few teachers, and wasn't simply amazed at the number of board members.  Those who think we have too many districts now would be shocked at the number we had 85 years ago for about the same number of students.  I was surprised at the number of teachers, until I considered that the curriculum was severely limited and there were no special programs for special needs students. 

Now that we know some numbers, what else was happening in 1930?  Superintendent Allen considered the preeminent issue to be funding equalization.  He asked that school board members “study (equalization) fearlessly without prejudice.…” He was concerned that wealth disparity in the state caused some districts to be able to educate their students for less than one mill a year, while others had mill levies of over 60 mills. 

He was also concerned about efficiency.  He explained, “…in some cases where attendance is very small, or where other unfair conditions may exist it may be possible to transport to other schools.”

Superintendent Allen worried about equitable revenue sources as well.  At the time there was no Kansas income tax and he advocated for an amendment to allow it.  Over-reliance on property tax was of great concern to the Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1930.  He worried that the country had changed since wealth was measured on how much property one owned and said, “80% of Kansas wealth is in intangibles,” not real property.  He gave several examples of people who paid no tax because they didn't own property, but had significant income.  He said these people considered it unfair and wanted to pay their “fair share” for using public services.

In response to the issues identified, the Superintendent offered a solution.  Citing a group called the Tax Code Commission, he explained a Proposed Act for Allocating New Revenue For Schools.  Today we might call this a school finance formula.  Mr. Allen recognized and explained the different challenges in different districts and the impossibility of a simple allocation, as did the Commission.  Their solution was complex and includes an equalization formula to share between districts, counties, and the state; a formula that controls for school size by allocating units of instruction based upon enrollment; assistance for districts with transporting students; and a mechanism to go above the base state funded instructional units.

Yogi Berra might say this is deja vu all over again. We should be careful about retreating to pre-1930 days with state revenue and school funding policies.  The comparison of numbers at the beginning shows how much more complex education is today than in 1930. We should heed the advice of the editors of the Journal who said:

“While most problems of teaching must be worked out by educators, the financial problems of the schools should be worked out by those who are intrusted with the business management of school affairs.  The school board members should be the best informed and their opinions should have the greatest weighting deciding any changes in the method of raising school revenue and in the distribution of that revenue.”

Yogi can say that again.

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